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Abstract–Poetic Authority and the Utility of Reproduction in the Theogony and Works and Days

This paper examines the rhetorical function of reproduction in the Theogony and the Works and Days. It is grounded in the dual observation that, while there is a great deal of overlap in the poems’ dominant attitudes about women and childbirth, 1) both poems engage with strains of a far more complicated discourse about the nature of reproduction and its role in shaping men’s lives, and 2) both selectively activate or suppress elements of this discourse in order to create a worldview in which the poet may maximize his poetic authority.  By presenting the full range of problems, solutions, and benefits of reproduction among the gods while excising it almost entirely from the human realm, the poet of the Theogony widens the gap between men and gods so that he may bridge that gap and intensify the impact of his poetry. The Works and Days, on the other hand, begins by deploying threatening images of reproduction and an urgently dire vision of human life to attract the audience’s attention. Gradually, however, the poem addresses family planning directly and incorporates increasingly more benign references to reproduction into Hesiod’s vision of the just life that may be obtained by recognizing the wisdom of his teachings. This examination of the thematic of reproduction in Hesiodic poetry will shed light on the multivocal nature of discourses about women and childbirth and suggest possible poetic, in addition to ideological, motivations for downplaying women’s reproductive contributions to society.

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